More than six hundred years before Christ, the Word of the Lord came to a young man named Jeremiah. Those words are the text for today’s sermon.
Note in the text that Jeremiah was called by God. He was not just sent out as a teacher to face the nation on his own power. God gave Jeremiah a mission with a promise: Don’t be afraid. I will go with you.
Yet Jeremiah was filled with fears. How could he stand before the mighty people of his day? They had power and could easily do him harm. With fear and trembling, the Prophet went as God’s voice to an evil generation.
Speaking for God carries with it a word of authority. After all, it is not our opinion that we share with our people. God is speaking through us. We see this in John the Baptist’s preaching. People flocked into the wilderness to listen to him preach. His message was new and fresh as he reminded them of their sins and pointed them to Jesus as the Messiah who would take those sins away.
Luke tells us that the people were amazed at Jesus’ teaching because his message had authority.
The Word of God from the pulpit is so powerful it can change lives. I believe we sometimes fail to understand this, and so today I speak to you on the power of the pulpit.
The word pulpit, in the sense that we best understand it, is a piece of furniture usually found in a church. Jeremiah had a pulpit in that sense of the word. We can envision him standing in the synagogue preaching to the people of Israel. God’s message was clear: Repent of your sins or God will punish you!
Did the people respond? For twenty-five years, Jeremiah served as the prophet while King Josiah reigned. He was a godly leader who wanted the Jewish people to live faithfully with God. These were good years for Jeremiah. However, when Josiah died, life became difficult for the prophet. The people worshiped false gods and rejected the Word of God that came from Jeremiah’s pulpit. The inevitable happened: God punished the people of Judah, Jerusalem fell in 586 BC, and many were led away into captivity in Babylon.
The Bible brings us a message from this account of Jeremiah. We Ð the Church Ð have been given the Bible Ð God’s Word Ð through which the Almighty speaks in the Law and the Gospel. The law reveals how God wants us to live and convicts us of our sins. The gospel brings the glad tidings that Jesus Christ has come to die as a payment for our sins. If we will receive him as our Savior, our sins are forgiven and we become God’s children forever.
This is the message that Christ has commissioned his Church to share with the world. All believers are called to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8), and from this group the Holy Spirit calls some to be pastors. If these pastors, who stand in the pulpit each Sunday, are fearlessly proclaiming the message from God’s Word, many people will become believers. Paul writes, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17).
Will all those who hear this message come to faith? Some will receive Christ, and these people are his Church. Others will live and die in their sins, separated from God.
The congregation needs to hear the law each Sunday. They must know of their sins, for God has absolutes Ð rights and wrongs.
But God also has a gospel telling of his love for the world. When these two messages flow from the pastor’s lips, the pulpit is powerful. Unbelievable things happen and we see lives change.
If a congregation is convinced of the pulpit’s power, should it not guard the pulpit? I once preached in a church that had a short pew seated right under the pulpit and a reserved sign fastened to it. This caught my curiosity, so I asked one of the members who it was that occupied that pew. He told me that years ago three elders from the congregation were appointed to listen to what the preacher was saying. If, in their opinion, something was said that was contrary to the scriptures, they would ask the pastor to discuss the subject with them. This might be a bit extreme, but we have to wonder who guards the pulpit today?
In addition to being described as a piece of furniture, the word pulpit can also be described in a symbolical way, meaning a place where we expound our convictions in conversation with a group of people. Some of them may even resent what is being said and tell that person to get off their pulpit, adding that they don’t have time to listen to what is being said to them. Let me give you a personal illustration.
When our country was in the middle of fighting the Viet Nam war, one of our young men from the congregation was killed. The military allowed his body to be shown, which was a mistake in my opinion for a portion of his face had been marred. A lot of debate had been happening over whether this war would ever be won and if these young people were dying in vain. I became very emotional in my sermon one Sunday and denounced the whole Viet Nam war. I seldom let politics enter my preaching, but this had become very difficult for me. I saw this young man, who had sat in my confirmation class, now in a casket.
On Monday a member of our congregation came to my study to visit with me about my comments on the war. After hearing my explanation for preaching as I did, he said words to this effect: “Pastor, we know it is hard to control our feelings, but please do not let this happen again. We come to church to hear the Word of God. We can listen to Walter Cronkite tell us about the war on the evening news.”
He spoke with a loving spirit, but delivered a firm message. He was rightly guarding the pulpit.
The word pulpit can also be used in a symbolical way. It is the time and place where you are speaking, perhaps with some emotion. It can be a time when we express our convictions to others, such as a parent correcting their child. You may have a child who wants to stay home from church on Sunday morning. He feels it should be decision whether or not to attend church. After all, he is now fourteen years old and should be old enough to make up his own mind what he wants to do on Sunday morning. This bothers his parents so they tell him why, in their family, people go to church each Sunday morning, and that will be the rule for him as long as he lives at home.
Think of the times in life when you can use your pulpit to express your convictions. Consider the opportunities Christians in politics have to use their pulpits to point the nation to Christ alone as the answer to many of our most difficult problems. How sad it is when pulpits remain silent and God’s Word is not heard.
Think of the pulpits on both Wall Street and Main Street. What an opportunity for influential business leaders to share their Christian witness! Who knows what a Word from God could mean at an opportune time.
History reveals the many pulpits Christ has scattered all over the world. How they have proven their power when men and women’s lives are changed as they come to know Christ as their Savior and Lord.
If we are convinced that God’s Word has given us a message that needs to be heard, let the voice of the Lord ring out from our pulpits and see how powerful that word can be in changing our world.